Updated: Sep 8, 2021
When I was growing up, in a group of kids playing, I was often the youngest. This means I was an expert at the following lines: "wait!", "Stop it", "Let me try" and "I'm telling"... that last one was reserved for emergencies only. I learned to be tough, persistent, to keep up and to be unabashedly stubborn. Once, my brother and two older kids and I were riding four-wheelers on the dusty country roads of Doña Ana County, New Mexico.
Up to the point I am going to tell you about, everyone had ridden the four-wheeler but me. I was pretty young to ride one alone, maybe 8 years old, and no one offered to have me ride with them. Finally, I was annoying enough for long enough to get granted my very own spot on the coveted vinyl seat. Then came the zinger: they told me I had to wear a helmet. A ridiculous gold-glitter half-helmet. No one else had to wear a helmet - it was the eighties and we had drive-through liquor store windows. We drank from the hose. We went gallivanting around the neighborhood and no one had any way of contacting us. We played with matches and lighters. We ate Velveeta Cheese. We didn't wear sunscreen. It was the era of safety last. We wore jelly shoes, but not helmets. Besides, that helmet was, by my imaginary unanimous poll survey decision, a very tacky and an embarrassing token of my perceived inability to use this machine. Insulted, I gave just enough push-back to show my dissent, but not enough to get my privilege revoked. My brother had taught me a healthy respect for authority. So, I donned the shimmering half-dome and was given the complicated instructions that went something like this: "there's the throttle, and there's the brake. Don't crash." I totally had this!
With narrowed eyes of determination, I snugged the strap on my golden glitter dome, threw a leg over and was ready to go. I started going along the straight dirt road at a pace that was fast enough to blow my hair back, but not speedy enough to catch bugs in my teeth or start my cheeks flapping. Apparently, my screaming brother did not agree. “Brake! Brake!...Hit the brake!” He yelled. I was cruising along blissfully ignorant when his voice made its way faintly into my ear through the rushing sound of the oncoming wind. I looked over to him, and immediately became concerned. In a rush of child-brain computations, I remembered where the brake was and I crushed on it in my usual faithful obedience to match the urgency of his call. And let me tell you, those breaks, they worked like a dream! So well, in fact, that the four- wheeler came to what seemed like an instant stop and, unfortunately, Newton’s laws held fast. I was the object in motion that stayed in motion, lacking an opposite force to hold me in the seat. I went flying over the handlebars, did an olympic-worthy flip and landed squarely on my hand-me-down-Levi-clad caboose right in front of the four-wheeler.
I was not hurt. At all. And it could’ve been funny. It should’ve been funny...but no one laughed. I was actually a little mad at my brother for yelling at me to brake when I was having my own personal Easy Rider moment which he so rudely interrupted. I forgot to be mad at myself for complying with his frantic antics... that advanced thought pattern manifested later in life. Anyhow, to my surprise, when he reached me, he was not apologizing. Wait, whaaaaat? Not apologizing? He was reveling in the fact that I had proved him right: I was not old enough to ride the four-wheeler. It was the familiar ol’ I-told-you-so response.
I felt like Ralph from Greatest American Hero. Well, sometimes I still do. Do you remember the Greatest American Hero? You know, the theme song, “believe it or not, it’s just me?” Am I older than you? Just in case, I’ll explain. This was a television show from the early 1980’s, during the time of Mr. T and Night Rider. The protagonist in The Greatest American Hero was Ralph, a teacher and wannabe superhero who happens upon a magic suit that gives him super powers when he puts it on: flying, super strength, resistance to pain, all of the things that you would expect out of a superhero. The problem is that he lost the manual for the suit and doesn’t know how to use it. Regardless, he dons it with the intent of fighting crime. He calls the suit his “Magic Pajamas” and refers to himself as “Captain Gonzo.” Without the help of the manual to learn to control the powers the suit gives him, he comically crashes into buildings and looks like a midair symphony conductor when he flies. He is incredibly clumsy with his gift.
By definition, “gonzo” is a term to describe a fool, someone or something strange and unusual. Isn’t this how we all come into the world? A little “gonzo” with a human suit for which we somehow lost the manual? We are just trying to survive and hopefully also help humanity, but we crash and burn more than we would like to admit. You have, haven’t you? Yes you. You there reading this. It’s okay. Admit it. I have too. Navigating this human suit we were given with the superhero powers of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, with a mysterious sixth sense just thrown in, is complicated.
And this mysterious sixth sense is like the “under the bed” of our understanding of humanity. Can’t explain it? Don’t know what to do with it? Doesn’t fit in the house of biology? Can’t be measured by science? Too weird for sponsorship? Insurance won’t pay for it? Put it under the bed! just shove it right on under there. Good. Ohp, you’re gonna have to give it a better shove, it’s sticking out.... maybe kick it. There’s a lot under there. Give it a good swift kick... there ya go. Can’t see it now!... no one ever looks under there, and the kiddos think there are monsters, so they won't go exploring. so, with that, we can keep the rest of the house clean.
Now, where was I? Ah, gonzo. Don’t you think our souls, spirits or collective biology, energy cluster, or whatever you want to call it was a little gonzo to want to don a “human suit?” And then, when we are born, we realize we no longer have the instruction booklet. You’re on your own, kiddo. Better get a glittery half-helmet, cause it’s gonna be wild ride. And whatever you do, as soon as you start feeling the exhilaration of your momentum, don’t let any voice convince you to slam on the brake. It’ll be what they expect —your faithful obedience— but it is really bad training for a superhero. It reinforces the wrong paradigm. you know, the “what do YOU know?” paradigm.
Why do we cower to this? It’s like we should just stand tall, spit-slick our eyebrows with our pinkies and say, “hey, bubbo, maybe my suit is a little different than yours. Write your own damn manual and leave the crashing and burning to me.” I mean, unless we do this discovery thing our way, we’ll never figure out these magic pajamas of ours -- and will still be crashing and burning but not really learning a whole lot about our superhero suit!
Anyway, that’s the best advice I have for that, but obviously, by evidence of my childhood example, I am not always good at following it. In my defense, it is said that the best advice one gives is advice that the person giving it needs the most. That makes perfect sense because we, in this culture, are absolutely horrible at perspective-taking. And this brings us to the mention of an urgent need for a fluid perspective when wearing the suit. No time for shame, blame, or ego. No time to compensate for the fact that we have imposter syndrome in this fancy leotard superhero garb. Essentially, to stop being so preoccupied with one’s self. Stop thinking you know nothing when it comes to yourself and everything when it comes to others. And stop thinking others know better than you do about your own life experience and feelings. Be humble, be curious, be brave and be discerning. And by the way, no one is looking at your mismatched socks at the grocery store because they are worried that they have leftovers in their teeth and that their panty lines are showing through their yoga pants. Really, when we do think of others, we often only think of what they may be thinking of us in a self-conscious mishmash of gifted childhood and media-spoon-fed shame. If you want to, you can change that. But you can’t just tweet it. You have to do it. Just sayin’. It’s like I know you, huh?!
In the end, it’s kinda cool that we were given this “Captain Gonzo” suit and that we don’t know how to use it. Buuuut it’s not cool what most of us do with it. I mean, why do we try so hard to be a struggling peripheral character in someone else’s Sim City? You may not be in the closet, but you are definitely under the bed like that monster (that’s what they’ll call you if you crawl out, huh?) So you’re hiding away in a shell of yourself when the real you is reading by flashlight about that category that science nor society wants to admit to. C’mon out, now. C’mon out. Looking for purpose? Looking for Truth? It ain’t under there. And if you want, you can split yourself in two and leave the unexplainable excellence of your unique being under there while you subscribe to the fad of consumerism and cool trinkets and security in the form of a job with benefits. But I don’t recommend it. I tried it and now I’m over forty and, you know, I am not so proud cause, uh, it’s still under there. But, there is hope because I didn’t purchase a conformity subscription with autorenewal. I've just been manually renewing it every year. It seems pretty overpriced. This year, I think I'll pass on the subscription of institutionalized freedom and try out some internalized freedom. You can be free too. You may be labeled an outcast and a weirdo. You know, gonzo. But you also may be the alter-ego of weirdo, which is hero. You never know!
Additionally, happiness science has shown us that you really won’t be as crushed as you think if you fail, so you might as well go for it and not live with anticipated regrets. Unanticipated regrets are far better. And don’t buy into that bullshit that you’ll never be happy without a lot of money (because you were trained to compare your shiny things to other people’s shiny things), that you’ll die if you don’t have insurance (your medical care will suck either way), that you should suck it up for that cushy retirement (cause you may not even live that long, and if you do, what’ll be left of ya?), that you’re doing it for the kids (cause they’re on their own journey and they want you to be happy). All of this, because in the end, no one gives a poo (except your selfish quarreling heirs) how much money you made or the estate you built.
The ones that matter will care if you lived. Well, even if they don’t care how you lived, you should. So keep your spoon in your own Cheerios and marvel at the strange miracle of your very own weirdos, er, heroes journey as we all slowly turn ourselves inside-out to experientially discover our own personal manual. Crush that throttle, catch a bug in your front teeth and roll on through the screaming safety net of those who think they know you better than you. They don’t know what’s best for you. How could they? They are them. You are you. Find the holy grail of “you”, you reckless Captain Gonzo, you. Maybe one day you’ll be singing like a fog horn as you’re soaring above your wildest expectations and all of those obedient 9-5ers, singing, “believe it or not, it’s just meeeee!”
And they’ll all have their mouths gaping open, thinking, "how does she do that?" When the whole time they were telling you not to. Because they didn’t. But you’ll know what living feels like, and when they ask, you can say, “it’s like wearing a superhero suit that fits like a glove, except it's on your whole body, not just your hand.” Way to go, Gonzo! You rock!